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Five Principles for Creating Award-Winning B-to-B Brand Experiences

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Tanner Harp
Tanner Harp

Director, Marketing


Lessons from the B-to-B Dream Team Power Panel

This article originally appeared on

Last month, Event Marketer revealed the 2017 edition of the B-to-B Dream Team. And last week, this group of hard-hitting marketers came together for a panel session at Experiential Marketing Summit that drew a standing-room-only crowd. And for good reason. They delivered one grand slam after another of expert marketing advice.

Just like last year’s panel, the time ran out while the crowd was hungry for more.

Here are the top five themes that emerged from this best practice fest.

For all the skimmers out there, we’ve got the top takeaways right here. But we invite you to dig in with more detail, context, and quotes below.

  • Storytelling is the foundation for every successful experience
  • Tech ain’t everything
  • Inspiration for pros and tips for newbies: pay attention to your peers
  • Metrics, analytics, measurement: prove your worth
  • How to choose in-house vs. agency: ensure business understanding and personality fit

Storytelling is the foundation for every successful brand experience

You’ve heard it before. Here it is again from the Dream Team: story matters.

A story isn’t a story without conflict. Mike Trovalli of Sage specifically picks mentors who’ve failed at business before they succeeded because the story is so much stronger. You need conflict.

“Pick the best storyteller, not the best title,” says Sean Zielinski from Harley-Davidson. Don’t just throw your execs up on stage. Sometimes your frontline workers with the passion for creating the products connect better than those at the top.

A strong story is an emotional one. Jane Culcheth Beard from HP reminds everyone to find the emotional connection, which works best through the storyteller’s voice — and to the previous point, the storyteller isn’t always the executive. It can be an employee, a customer, or a partner. Let that voice tell the story.

What if you have a legacy story? As Charlie Eder of AOL points out, things change. Use the change as an opportunity for your new starting point — your new story. (Sounds a little like conflict, eh?)

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Tech ain’t everything

With the ever-increasing rate of technology, it’s easy to drown in shiny object syndrome. Don’t.

All the best marketers agree on this: technology is part of the experience, not the experience itself. 

The real value is in the physicality of what you’re doing. If you can, cut a car in half for users to experience (Ford, Harley-Davidson agree). If you can’t, then use virtual reality or something else to immerse attendees in it. 

When using technology, ask yourself these questions: Why? What’s the purpose? What will people remember? How will it extend my message?

Sean Zielinski, Harley-Davidson

Inspiration for pros and tips for newbies: pay attention to your peers

With a rock-star cast like this, it’s good to hear where the members get their ideas. They also provided related tips for newbies in the industry.

These top marketers watch others in the industry for ideas and inspiration. They also watch others outside the industry. Stay on top by staying abreast of trends and new ideas.

And if you’re new, then do. Say yes to everything. Get as much experience as possible. As Jane from HP says, “Open yourself up to opportunities. You’ll only regret not doing things.”

And as Mike from Sage suggests, “Learn from others. Watch the next generation with curiosity, not judgment. They’ll teach you how to interact with the future.” 

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Metrics, analytics, measurement: prove your worth

In the end, you have to show results. How do you do it?

Sean from Harley-Davidson advises using the same measurements throughout to make it easier to gauge progress and spot problems.

Jane from HP is a big fan of net promoter score. Do it before and after the event. Look for a five-point uplift. Use surveys.

But, it’s more than just the hard metrics.

As Garett Carr of Ford says, in addition to leads and close rates, “Listen with your eyes. Are people smiling and having fun? Are they entertained? Make sure people want to interact with you, and you draw them in. It’s about experiences, after all.”

But before any of that begins, make sure you understand the full scope of the event. As Mike from Sage explains, “Know the beginning and end state. That will determine your strategy for measurement.”

Mike continues with an important point: although we want to show success, “if you’re not failing, you’re not risking — and without risking, you’re not innovating.” 

How to choose in-house vs. agency: ensure business understanding and personality fit

What do you handle yourself and what do you entrust to an agency?

This group was uniform on their thoughts: you need partners, and you need to trust them… but those partners must intimately understand you.

As Jane from HP says, “They must know what your business is about.” They must listen to you, and demonstrate that listening.

That takes us to the next point. You should click with the people you work with. They should fit your personality and your brand’s personality.

As Garett from Ford says, “Our partners need to do their homework. They have to know our business. The most important thing we can provide is a great creative brief. But they have to adjust to our style. A cookie-cutter approach won’t work.”

And that’s something all of these B-to-B Dream Team members embrace — throwing out the cookie-cutter approach.

Now go and do the same! 

For more big picture perspectives, download the insights paper: Tomorrow, Today: The Future of Brand Experience.

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